This is part two in what’s shaping up to be a four-part series. If you missed part one, which mainly covers WHY you should take extra pains in editing your indie novel, you can read it here.
In this post, we get down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Well, technically step one is to write the book. But for our purposes today we’re assuming you’ve already got a rough draft ready to go. If so, then put it away. Don’t look at it for at least a month. Spend this time recruiting first readers. Don’t worry about roping in the eagle-eyed grammar cops at this point. Look for people who have good instincts about storytelling and pacing, and people who are good at spotting plot holes and continuity glitches and things that just make no damn sense, and people who have a good ear for dialogue. Look for people who read a lot of fiction and/or watch a lot of episodic television.
Where do you find these people? This is where a good critique group can come in handy, but I usually put out a call for volunteers in my personal and social networks, stating what I’m looking for, what things I’m going to be focusing on this round, my time frame, etc.
When you’re month is up, take out your rough draft and do the first pass. Fix the problems that you can identify all by yourself. I’m not really concerned with which method you use; just do what works for you. Chuck Wendig’s got some great advice on how to revise a manuscript. So does Holly Lisle, and hers is 100% less profanity-laden.
After you’ve made your first developmental pass, do your first copy-edit pass. At this point you can go ahead and take the lazy route and use an automated grammar editor like Grammerly. Your purpose at this point isn’t to make it perfect — it’s simply to clean it up as much as possible to minimize errors that might distract your first readers.
Now congratulate yourself on completing your second draft. Have a beer or your beverage of choice and fire it off to your first readers. Explain to them that it’s too early in the process for them to bother pointing out typos or grammar snafus, because there’s still a good chance that whatever scene contains such errors will get extensively rewritten or cut altogether.
These first readers should focus on developmental feedback. Does the dialogue ring true? Is characterization consistent? Are there any plot holes, or anything that confuses them or pulls them out of the story? Ask them to refrain from telling you what to fix or how to fix it — that’s your job to figure out. They just need to point out any such problems, and to be honest, even brutally so if necessary.
While you wait to hear back from them, start recruiting your next group of beta readers.
Read the feedback as it comes in. Don’t do anything with it yet. Let your subconscious digest it (and give any hurt feelings or irritation a chance to subside). Once you’ve heard back from everyone (and given your emotions time to settle), open up your manuscript and go through it again, looking at the problematic parts and making story repairs according to the feedback.
This, for me, is the hardest part. It’s not really a good idea to just automatically change anything that’s been pointed out as problematic. You need to analyze it, and analyze the feedback and who’s giving it. Are they savvy about the genre? If not, is their confusion simply because they’re unfamiliar with the genre shorthand you used? If that’s the case, should you maybe not resort to genre shorthand, or should you trust your audience to know what you’re doing there without dumbing it down for them? This can be a hard balance to strike. Basically, I look for agreement, and lack thereof. If only one of my first readers doesn’t get my Doctor Who reference, for instance, I’m going to leave it in there for the other four who did. But I’m also going to take a second look at that reference to make sure it actually ads to the story. Whether you make a change based on feedback or not, be sure you justify every decision.
Finish your changes, run it through spellcheck and Grammerly again, and have another beverage. You just finished the third draft.
Do you have any questions for me about the editing process? If so, leave it in a comment. If it’s not already addressed in the next two parts of this series, I’ll do a follow-up Q&A post at the end. Also, I’d LOVE to hear any editing tips you have to offer.
Ready for Part Three? Read it here.